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For all you anti-war types sniggering over President Obama’s well-deserved Syria travails, just remember: he’s the president of the United States, and he can do something about it.
Not to you. To Syria.
Especially if he has to attack Syria without congressional approval, I find it unlikely President Obama will give some Syrian army munitions dump a symbolic, admonitory plink and then return to business as usual in Washington as a neutered lame duck (assuming that ducks can be neutered*).
No, I think he will give serious thoughts to doubling down in order to 1) rebut accusations of wimpish impotence and 2) bury the memory of the humiliating debate under a serious, prolonged, and seriously distracting barrage of ordinance.
So we might be treated to a Syrian version of the miraculously expanding Libyan no-fly zone (the Libyan air force was destroyed within a week or so, but NATO kept bombing targets for months anyway). Every Syrian army base, government office, warehouse, truck, and toilet could be deemed a possible WMD sanctuary and plastered accordingly.
Bombings would continue until President Obama’s morale improves (perhaps when the insurrectionists get their act together and the regime finally falls and we can start criticizing President Obama for his bloodthirsty red-line enforcement manliness instead of his effete red-line tap dancing wussitude).
In the process, President Obama would have to abandon his fading hopes of a Yemen-style regime transition Defcon 3 fuckup in Syria in favor of a Libyan regime collapse Defcon 4 type fuckup.
I find it remarkable that all the talk is about President Obama’s Iraq War-inspired squeamishness for intervention in Syria. The real precedent is Libya which, Benghazi or no Benghazi, is a snowballing failing state train wreck, fueled by a stand-off air offensive and virtually no ability to control outcomes on the ground, which no president in his right mind would want to duplicate.
If, as I believe, Saudi Arabia has intransigently worked against the transition formula (and, in the possibility that dares not speak its name in polite company, perhaps the KSA helped arrange a false flag chemical weapons outrage that pushed President Bush into his current red line cul-de-sac), I wonder if President Obama is also casting around for a way to avenge his humiliation at the hands of Prince Bandar.
Hey, how about peace with Iran? That would really stick in Bandar’s craw.
I also think that John Kerry can start taking some long weekends and long vacations. Nobody’s going to be missing him at the office.
He was not President Obama’s first choice as Secretary of State and his performance as war salesman has been well short of outstanding (which might be attributed to an admirable inner conflict between his defining personal history as an anti-war veteran and the full-bore warmongering demanded by his office, as well as his full-bore shortcomings as a public persuader). Susan Rice’s self-righteous R2P invective would have given the President more political breathing room than John Kerry’s awkward verbal meandering.
For that matter, I wonder who’ll take the fall for the “let’s let Congress vote on it” brainwave. All that’s done is highlight the fact that the American public is unenthusiastic about the attack and President Obama has to go out there for some inglorious and unpopular armtwisting to get a vote he might have to ignore anyway.
Now President Obama has to sell the war himself and explicitly frame the resolution to unhappy Democrats as a matter of his personal credibility and effectiveness during the last two years of his administration. Grrrr. Giving his party some political cover in return is another reason to go for more bombs and deliver a bigger foreign policy “win”.
If Hillary Clinton had still been Secretary of State, she might have advised President Obama to tell Congress to stick the vote up its cloakroom and launch an attack from the git-go by executive order. And it might have been a quicker, smaller attack than the big, face-saving, clout-preserving, and legacy-building attack that I am expecting.
*Answer: No, they can’t.
Peter Lee edits China Matters. His ground-breaking story on North Korea’s nuclear program, Japan’s Resurgent Militarism, appears in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.